Lawsuit Targets Church for Teenager’s Death During Religious Ritual

July 18th, 2011

Throughout the course of human civilization, people have used mind-altering substances in religious and spiritual ceremonies, from peyote-fueled Native American ceremonies to coffee-infused modern church services.

There are, however, limits to such practices, as the religious leaders guiding the ceremonies have a responsibility to protect the participants.

Lawsuit Alleges Church is Responsible for Child’s Death

A recent lawsuit filed against the Church of Divine Appointment in Las Vegas, Nevada, alleges that the church was responsible for the tragic death of a 16 year-old girl.

According to sources, the wrongful death lawsuit says that the girl, Brianna Benbo, was told by church officials to ingest a capsule containing bee pollen, as well as other substances, prior to a religious ceremony. Benbo had attended the service alone.

The lawsuit further claims that Benbo had a severe allergic reaction to the contents of the capsule, quickly entering anaphylactic shock. She died a few hours later from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

The wrongful death claim is being brought by Benbo’s parents, Glories Powell and Lula Davis against The Church of Divine Appointment, which is also known as the Moment of Truth Ministries.

Attorneys for the deceased girl’s parents claim that it was negligent for the church officials to administer such a substance to a minor who was unsupervised. The plaintiff’s lawyers also criticize the church for its decision to give her the drugs prior to fasting.

While fasting remains an important ritual in several major religions, the lawsuit seems to imply that minors should not be induced into such an activity on their own, particularly if it involves dangerous substances.

Lawsuit Alleges Church Neglect to Warn of Danger

The lawsuit also alleges that the church officials negligently failed to warn participants in the ritual that the capsules contained bee pollen, which can create a severe allergic reaction in some people. Sources do not indicate what other types of chemicals were present in the ill-fated capsules.

Thus, the theory that the lawsuit relies on is that the church should have warned people who ingested the capsules that they contained potentially dangerous substances. By failing to do so, the lawsuit claims the church was responsible for Benbo’s untimely death.

Benbo’s parents are seeking compensation for funeral and burial costs, as well as relief for mental anguish, grief, and physical and mental pain.

Would It Be Different if it was an Adult Who Died?

If the lawsuit proceeds to trial, it will raise several interesting questions. For example, if Benbo had been an adult, might the church have had less of a duty to properly warn her of the contents of the ritual capsules?

The parents’ attorneys seem to be focusing on her status as an unsupervised minor to strengthen their case. Of course, regardless of the outcome of the case, a general lesson can already be gleaned from the tragic case—if you’re attending a ritual at the Church of Divine Appointment, politely decline any offered pills.